Canadian women’s team head coach John Herdman says “they are a special team.”
He goes on to pile on the compliments.
“They have a bit of everything. They’re a complete team: disciplined, organized and they’ve been together a long time,” Herdman told me during a recent phone conversation.
Herdman might have been talking about Canada’s last opponents, the formidable United States, who recently beat the Reds 3-0 in Toronto. But in fact he was talking about Canada’s next opponents, the nearly as formidable Germany.
Canada’s next step in preparation for the FIFA Women’s World Cup here at home in 2015 is a friendly match against the two time World Cup champions Wednesday in Paderborn, Germany. While Canada is coming off a loss to the aforementioned U.S., Germany just dismantled Scotland 3-0 on Saturday night.
That match was one of three preparatory matches for the Germans as they head into the European Championship slated to take place in Sweden from July 10-28. Head coach Sylvia Neid was pleased but sniffed “we need to perform better.” However, Scotland coach Anna Signeul warned: “We know we played the best team in Europe, maybe the best team in the world.”
So get ready Canada.
Herdman is doing the best he can and sticking to the game plan, which means using every training session, every game and every chalkboard session with one thing in mind: to prepare this team for 2015.
If that means encouraging the recently unretired Kara Lang in her comeback bid, then so be it. Lang still faces a long road ahead in an effort to rebuild her destroyed knee after multiple operations ended her career, at least for a couple years. Herdman warns cynics not to suggest the need to have her back in the fold reveals a dearth of good young players in the system.
Herdman says he remembers the impact Lang had on games for Canada when he was coaching New Zealand. He adds Lang is just 26-years-old and he will leave no stone unturned in the search for players who can help.
That’s where the so-called EXCELeration camps, run by the Canadian Soccer Association, come into the picture. These are camps primarily for 18-23 year olds who might be outside the college system, are in their off season, do not have contracts to play professionally, or who are otherwise inactive.
Two such players who attended these camps have made Canada’s roster for Wednesday’s tussle with the Germans. One is Rachel Melhado, a 20-year-old University of Louisville defender from Mississauga, Ont.. She has seen action for Canada at the U-18 and U-20 levels. The other is 23-year-old Seattle University forward Melissa Busque from St. Bruno, Que. It’s the first call up for both players.
Other notable changes from the team that lost to the United States: goalkeeper Karina Leblanc is out in favour of Stephanie Labbe. Herdman points out that both Leblanc and Labbe are fighting for the number two spot anyway, as Erin McLeod is now the clear number one. Labbe plays professionally in nearby Sweden so it was an easy decision to bring her in for this game.
Melissa Tancredi also misses out due to school commitments. In fact Herdman says her appearance against the U.S. was probably it for this year.
For the Canadian team, this game is about education, as well. Herdman takes a very pragmatic approach to the entire process. One step at a time. And Germany is a very big step.